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Obama’s Czech bodyguard: I was a live shield

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Prague – During his 15 years of service, he was responsible for the security of Václav Klaus Miloš Zeman and Laura Bush, the wife of the former US president.

This weekend was, without a doubt, the highlight of his career. He was the personal bodyguard of US President barack Obama.

“I was his closest bodyguard on the Czech side,” says the bodyguard in an exclusive interview with Aktuálně.cz. He only agreed to talk under the condition that he remains anonymous.

“Basically, I was a live shield whose job was to cover the person in question from any potential attackers. If anything were to happen, if other security measures failed, then I would step in. And without hesitation, he says, yes, he really would risk his life for Obama.

What impression did barack Obama make on you?
He was a very pleasant man, very human. An excellent person.

And what did it feel like to be responsible for the security of such an important person?
It’s an honour, but I don’t feel any emotions about it. I need to focus on my job. I can’t be nervous or ecstatic about it. Being a bodyguard is mainly about the mind; the muscles are just there to help things. If your mind isn’t focused then nothing else will work.

Did anything during the visit surprise you? Or did everything go according to plan?
Everything went according to plan. The most challenging was the President Obama’s speech at Hradčanské náměstí. But event there, we didn’t encounter any surprises.

How many people on the Czech side were looking after the president.
I would prefer not to say exactly. But it was less than 10.

And how about his wife Michelle? Did she have her personal bodyguard as well?
Yes, she had around five people. Just like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Was the situation with the Obama visit somehow different?
The security work itself was not. But the preparations were more complicated. The three weeks leading up to the event were difficult psychologically. You need to mentally familiarise yourself with all the routes and the corresponding emergency exits. You need to know who is supposed to be where.

You must have been in close contact with the American side. What were the American agents like. Were they friendly or did they behave as though they were above you?
I have worked with American agents several times in the past already, for instance in 2002 and in 2007, when helped protect Ms Laura Bush. They are complete professionals. They don’t behave in a superior way. They are polite.

And what was the situation like at night? Did you also sleep at the Hilton, where Obama was staying?
No. My job end when the president enters his room. And it begins when he leaves it. For instance, if he decided that he wanted to go out somewhere in the evening, I would need to be on hand and arrive quickly to the hotel.

So do you ride in the presidential convoy. Right in the limousine?
According to international agreements, the safety of the visiting person is the responsibility of the side that invited the person. We normally ride in the main car, but in this case, there was an exception. I rode in the second car behind the limousine. Among other reasons, it was because I would have had to have learnt how to handle the interior of the car.

While you were the personal bodyguard of Obama, was there some guideline for how far away from him you were supposed to stand?
I am the one who decides on the appropriate distance from the person being protected. It’s based on strategic reasons and largely depends on whether he is among people or in an enclosed space. If he is inside the Prague Castle, for instance, I don’t need to be that close. By contrast after his speech at Hradčanské náměstí, when Mr. President shook hands with people, I needed to be very close, basically body to body.

This is related to my next question. What were you most concerned about? Was it his speech in an open area?
Definitely. Otherwise Mr. President moved in controlled environments, like the Prague Castle or the Congress Centre.

Was Obama ever in danger. Did you ever receive any such signals?
No. We met with teams from the Czech Security Information Service and from the organised crime police unit, and they didn’t have any information about potential dangers.

Let us talk directly about the programme. Is it true that the Obamas stayed at the Hilton for all of Saturday evening?
They stayed at the hotel the entire time. But we also had to count on the possibility that they might go somewhere. Originally, dinner was to be at 7pm, but the plane was delayed, so it was moved to 9pm and then to 10pm. But even the president is human, so it depended on him whether he would want to go somewhere or not.

Did you ever find it amusing to read “verified” media reports informing about where Obama was at a given time?
I was quite amused when one of the TV stations had live report from near the Hilton entrance, and she was speculating whether the Obamas will exit or not. I already knew that they wouldn’t. I felt a little sorry for her.

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